Taxing Your Own – 31 December 2023


As a supporter of progressive taxation and wealth taxes, you’d have thought I’d be impressed by the Scottish Government’s Budget. After all, I believe in the social contract of universal benefits paid for out of general and progressive taxation. All paying in, all drawing out. To those who say they don’t have kids, aren’t sick or elderly, we don’t live as individuals but as a community and we are our brother’s keeper.Instead, I view the Budget as cack-handed, affecting far too many who shouldn’t be included and excluding the few who most certainly should be. Now to be fair, the hand they’re dealt from Westminster’s grim and the cards to play are limited. UK taxes have risen but the Tories have cut it for the rich and loaded it onto the poor.The massive spike in National Insurance has, over the years, moved the burden onto the poor PAYE payer, all whilst taxes on wealth and assets have shrunk. Those with accountants or the circumstances establish companies and pay themselves dividends at significantly lower tax.Corporation and wealth taxes are beyond Holyrood’s powers and the super-rich have moved their money offshore. Yet even a 1 per cent levy on billionaires would transform the NHS or UK infrastructure. In Scotland, a proposed levy on supermarket alcohol profits through the minimum unit price was rejected. That’s simply petty and vindictive.I never winced at Denis Healey’s riposte about taxing the rich “until the pips squeak”. But this isn’t taxing the rich. Those now paying higher rate tax, in Scotland or the UK weren’t on the radar, when Healey spoke. But thresholds have dropped and many now included rightly don’t view themselves as rich or wealthy. They’re not Michelle Mone, but ordinary folk in well-paying jobs. They’re not rockstars but middle-ranking police officers, senior teachers and higher bands in the health service. They’re not even the chiefs or senior bods in these professions.They’re still well above the median wage and aren’t queuing at foodbanks. That though doesn’t make life easy as, even without tuition fees, there’s childcare, accommodation costs and other factors. They’re feeling the squeeze. In the social contract, they’re also sensing a failing. The council tax freeze, free prescriptions et al are welcome but the reality, not just perception, is that public services are declining. They’re being asked to pay more for less, at a time when they’ve increased pressures on a reduced budget.Even the new additional higher band seems more aimed at virtue-signalling than providing that redistributive element that tax both can and should provide. Most of the very wealthy won’t be included, as they’ll change their domicile or take other tax avoidance steps. It’s those a few grades up in the public services or private sector, such as those aforementioned middle-ranking cops and their colleagues.Thresholds need to be far higher and it’s wealth and assets that need taxed. Room to manoeuvre’s difficult under devolution but there’s land. In Scotland, it’s owned by the few and they are the super wealthy, flying in on private jets or sailing here on their huge boats. This Budget’s a hair shirt for our own, yet a let-off for oligarchs. Tax them, not our own.